Since the advent of multiparty politics in Togo in 1991, presidential elections have been hotly contested: violent opposition-led post-election protests, followed by state repression, 1See Amnesty International report 2015: https://www.refworld.org/docid/56d05b0a15.html. sometimes resulted in the deaths of several protestors.2Report of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005: https://reliefweb.int/report/togo/togo-human-rights-group-says-790-killed-4345-hurt-election-violence. It is against this background that there are concerns that the next presidential election scheduled for February 22, 2020 could lead to a repeat of incidents of electoral and post-election violence.

However, some observers are of the view that since Togo has implemented new constitutional reforms whose provisions include the limitation of the presidential mandate to two terms, a new system of two voting rounds in the presidential election, the re-composition of the constitutional court, as well as the mandate of legislators to two terms of six years each, things could possibly turnout differently. The Togolese opposition, having boycotted the legislative elections of December 2018, was in a minority in parliament, so the reforms were unanimously passed by representatives of the ruling party and its allies. The reforms, to some extent, addressed the demand that no president should serve more than two terms, but the opposition was not pleased that the reform could not apply retroactively to the current occupant of the presidential palace.

The Togolese opposition has accused the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) of duplicity.3http://europarl.europa.eu/intcoop/acp/10_01/pdf/1181913fr.pdf; Togo Breaking News. “Togo: l’opposition accuse la CEDEAO et appelle au boycott.” Togo Breaking News, November 13, 2018. https://togobreakingnews.info/index.php/politique/item/3736-togo-l-opposition-accuse-la-cedeao-et-appelle-au-boycott. Some opposition politicians naively believed that ECOWAS could impose the constitutional reform proposals of an expert4Agence de Presse Africaine. “Togo : la CEDEAO transmet son rapport sur les réformes aux acteurs de la crise.” Agence de Presse Africaine, November 20, 2018.  http://apanews.net/fr/news/togo-la-cedeao-transmet-son-rapport-sur-les-reformes-aux-acteurs-de-la-crise. commissioned to mediate between the two parties. In the end, the episode showed the varying degree of firmness that ECOWAS could impose strict measures on a country like Guinea-Bissau but turned out to be more conciliatory vis-à-vis the political authorities of Togo, one of its founding countries of ECOWAS (with Nigeria).

The equation of trust in institutions

Two institutions will play a decisive role in this election; the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), the body responsible for organizing and supervising the elections, and the Constitutional Court, which must validate the election and settle any disputes over the results. The mainstream opposition, having boycotted the legislative elections of December 20, 2018, did not send representatives to this institution that is currently composed of five representatives of the ruling party (Union for the Republic), five representatives of the parliamentary opposition, and parties that actually support the ruling party (the Union of Forces for Change, New Togolese Engagement, Pan-African Democratic Party, and Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development). The CENI also has three representatives from three extra-parliamentary parties: the Action Committee for Renewal (CAR), the Party for Democracy and Renewal (PDR), and the Alliance of Democrats for Integral Development (ADDI), and three representatives from civil society. The candidates of the opposition who stand for this election therefore have no representatives on the CENI. As for the constitutional court, it should be composed of nine members, but currently only has seven. The two missing members are expected to be appointed by the Senate, a body that currently does not exist in Togo. Some opposition groups had called for dialogue to find a political solution to the problem, but the government did not respond to the call. The results will therefore be announced by a partially renewed court, a court whose composition is still being disputed before the elections.

The Bishop’s candidate

The CENI, the body responsible for organizing and supervising the elections, has cleared seven people to contest the country’s upcoming presidential election. Tikpi Atchadam, the leader of the Pan African National Party (PNP) who organized the popular demonstrations of 2017, is no longer in the race since he lives in exile. In addition to the incumbent president, Faure Gnassingbé – who has already spent 15 years in power and is seeking a fourth term – others running include Aimé Gogué (ADDI), Georges –William Kouessan (Health of the People – Santé du Peuple), Jean-Pierre Fabre (UFC), Komi Wolou (PSR: Socialist Pact for Renewal), Mohamed Tchassona Traoré (Citizen Movement for Democracy and Development – MCD), and a candidate who has attracted lots of attention, Gabriel Agbéyomé Kodjo (Flagbearer for the Democratic Forces), former prime minister of the late Gnassingbé Eyadéma, father of the current president. One of his prominent supporters is none other than the Archbishop Emeritus of the city of Lomé, Monsignor Philippe Kpodzro. The latter had worked for a single opposition candidacy, and failing to achieve this, decided to support the candidate who, according to him, could achieve political change. He therefore travels all over the country to campaign with Gabriel Agbéyomé Kodjo.  He is quoted as telling his audience on February 17:

“I am a pastor, I am a bishop, I do not want wolves come to ravage the herd. I have become the dean of all bishops, next month I’ll be 90 years old. So, I said, it’s over, we’re going to end this diet, I’m going to fight the wolves. The name Gabriel means the strength of God, so it’s not me who works, it’s God who works. We don’t have a lot of money, but we are convinced that it is necessary to have a change on the evening of February 22.5Free translation. Original Quote available at : https://www.icilome.com/actualites/881433/presidentielle-2020-mgr-kpodzro-et-son-candidat-a-la-conquete-du-grand-nord.

It remains to be seen if the efforts of the prelate will lead to a political alternation in Togo, or if Faure Gnassingbé will successfully hang on to power. It is noteworthy that the candidates for this election have still not received the public contribution of 64,000 Euros (US$69,000) promised by the public authorities,6RFI. “Présidentielle au Togo: toujours pas de financement public pour les candidats.” RFI, February 17, 2020. http://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20200217-pr%C3%A9sidentielle-togo-candidats-ont-toujours-pas-re%C3%A7u-financement-public. while the campaign ends on February 20, 2020.

Despite the build up to the elections within the framework of constitutional reforms, no one can guarantee that term limits on the presidential mandate will not be called into question. Article 59 of the constitution, which states that the President of the Republic is elected by universal, free, direct, equal, and secret suffrage for a term of five years renewable only once, also provides the possibility of modifying this limitation of mandate by referendum.  For now, however, the population visibly stressed out by political contestations hope that these elections, even if they do not take place in the best conditions, will lead to a period of peace and prosperity for the country.

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